Many of us, perhaps most, first came across the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning when someone handed us a copy of her acclaimed Sonnets From the Portuguese, written in 1844-1845 just as she was about to turn 40, and newly in love with the equally middle-aged fellow poet Robert Browning. She’d been publishing poems for decades when she met Robert Browning and took nearly 20 years to agree to marry him. (For more on that story, one resource is Julia Markus’ 1995 book Dared and Done.) Though she went on to produce many more works, including the pioneering narrative Aurora Leigh, as we celebrate and examine midlife weddings these selections from Sonnets do the same, in verses both romantic and realistic about how we’re shaped by all our lives.

 

Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!—take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

 

A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne
From year to year until I saw thy face,
And sorrow after sorrow took the place
Of all those natural joys as lightly worn
As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn
By a beating heart at dance-time. Hopes apace¹
Were changed to long despairs, till God’s own grace
Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn
My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring
And let it drop adown thy calmly great
Deep being! Fast it sinketh, as a thing
Which its own nature doth precipitate,
Which thine doth close above it, mediating
Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.

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